Ohio Officials to Return Exotic Animals to Zanesville Widow


Written by Ann Sanner

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio (AP) State officials will return five surviving exotic animals to a woman whose husband released dozens of wild creatures, then committed suicide.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced the decision Monday at an agency hearing in which the state was to defend its authority to quarantine the animals two leopards, two primates and a bear on suspicion of infectious diseases.

A spokeswoman for the agency said the state had exhausted its authority in the case and that the state’s agriculture director would lift the quarantine order that was placed on the animals in October. Medical results released last week showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested.

That means the animals can be returned to Marian Thompson of Zanesville, though it’s unclear when. Logistics for retrieving the animals will have to be worked out between Thompson and the Columbus zoo, which has been holding the animals, said agriculture spokesman Erica Pitchford.

Once the animals are returned to Thompson, nothing in Ohio law allows state officials to check on their welfare or require improvements to conditions in which they are kept, Pitchford said.

The local humane society could intervene with help from the county prosecutor if there were an investigation into animal cruelty, she said.

“While repeated appeals have been made to local authorities to seek a court order to inspect the Thompson party to ensure the safety of the animals and the public, so far, no such local action has been taken,” Pitchford said.

Messages were left Monday with the Muskingum County prosecutor and county humane officer.

Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said the facility must follow certain protocols for the animals to be handed over to Thompson. For instance, she said, the animals must be sedated for the transfer, but they have to fast for 24 hours before being given the sedative.

Peters said the animals were fed Monday morning, and Wednesday would likely be the earliest they could be moved. Details are still being worked out, she said.

Thompson and her attorney, Robert McClelland, declined to answer reporters’ questions about the animals’ return as they left Monday’s hearing at the department’s headquarters in Reynoldsburg, just outside of Columbus.

Thompson is the widow of Terry Thompson, who released 56 animals including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers from his eastern Ohio farm Oct. 18 before he committed suicide. Fearing for the public’s safety, authorities killed 48 of the animals.

Three leopards, two Celebes macaques and a bear survived and were taken to the Columbus zoo. One spotted leopard had to be euthanized at the zoo in January, and the other animals have been there since October. The macaques are small primates; the female weighs about 6 pounds, while the male weighs more than 10 pounds.

State veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey said he’s concerned for the animals’ welfare and the public’s safety once they are back in Marian Thompson’s care.

“These are not domestic animals,” he said. “They are wild animals. So it’s important to have the proper housing and caging to ensure that these animals do not escape.”

Fred Polk, Thompson’s next door neighbor, said he doesn’t want the animals to return. Five creatures were killed on his property in October, including a cougar that was 15 feet from his front porch.

The ordeal terrified his wife, said Polk, 80. And if the animals got out again, he said, “I’m going to file the biggest lawsuit you’ve ever seen on them.”

McClelland has told the agriculture department that his client has adequate cages for the surviving animals, according to a letter obtained last week by The Associated Press through a public records request.

State officials issued a quarantine order because they said they were concerned about reports that the animals lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease.

Tom Stalf, the Columbus zoo’s chief operating officer, said in a sworn statement released Friday by the agriculture department that he was at the Thompsons’ property the day the animals were released. He said he saw two primates held in separate, small bird cages, along with a brown bear that was kept in a cage that wasn’t fit for its size.

“The bear was very aggressive and was biting at the wire cage,” Stalf said in the April 24 affidavit.

Terry Thompson’s suicide, the animals’ release and their killings led lawmakers to re-examine the state’s restrictions on exotic pets, which are considered some of the nation’s weakest. The state Senate recently passed a bill that would ban new ownership of monkeys, lions and other exotic animals. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Gov. John Kasich, the Columbus zoo, and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation support the measure, which would allow current owners to keep their animals by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and meeting other strict conditions. Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups would be exempt from the bill, along with sanctuaries and research institutions.


Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Barbara Rodriguez in Columbus contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press


Related Stories:

Breaking News: Exotic Animals Run Loose in Ohio

The Massacre in Zanesville, Ohio: Why?

Will Terry Thompson’s Widow Get Surviving Exotic Animals Back?


First photo: AP Photo/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Grahm S. Jones, File; second photo: AP Photo, File


Sandra Lane
Sandra Lane3 years ago

Sad, revolting, disgusting. What kind of people feel they have the right to own wild animals, keep them in cages unfit for smaller domestic animals? I think this woman should have her head examined if she wants the animals back. But then, the responsibility now lies with the people of Ohio if they allow this kind of backward redneck thinking to continue.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

(cut off)..................He is a great horse and a big baby, but he's still 1000-lbs. of potential harm if he perceives he should defend himself. I've had farriers and vets over the years who get careless and they are professionals. In fact, one of the "victims" of my dog's fear-biting was my horse's vet.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

I apologize for misspelling your name, Brittany. I have a friend with the same name as you and she spells it "Brittney". Sorry.

Anyway, while some can and do keep exotics safely for years without incident, they usually do understand the risks and minimize them as much as possible. They don't allow visitors and strangers to interact with the animals unless they have expertise. The chimp you referred to had never shown aggression "before", but as with some dogs who attack and KILL, the "before" behavior doesn't mean they never will in the future, given the right provocation. I've had dogs my entire life, and have been bitten twice. Both times it was my own dog and I know what I did "wrong" to cause the bite. I am fairly confident the same mistakes won't be repeated, but what about company? Should I expose strangers to a potentially dangerous animal? I do, but with warnings about what not to do when she's not contained (on a runner or shut in the spare room). I'd never assume because she's wagging her tail when she sees a stranger, that the stranger is "safe". Another "example"...........I have an 18-yr-old stallion. He's never shown any aggression towards me, nor any other female human, but he HAS to my son and one of my grandsons..........when THEY tried to dominate him. So, because he trusts me and vice versa, should I drop my guard/control of him when a new vet treats him? He is a great horse and a big baby, but he's still 1000-lbs. of potential harm if

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Brittney, the big difference between living near and being exposed to the dangers of someone who keeps exotic animals and sky diving is that one CHOOSES to jump out of an airplane. They put their OWN life in danger, not those around them, unless they happen to land on somebody on the ground and kill that person.

I don't sky dive, I don't bungee jump and I sure don't want to live near some sociopathic ego-maniac who feels he/she is entitled to keep whatever animals they want for personal profit/greed/ego boosting. Maybe this guy (Thompson) never had any of his exotics escape before, but fact was that he set them all loose and they were endangering the lives of his neighbors. Roy of "Siegfried & Roy" was nearly killed by his "pet" tiger and he had raised him from a cub. Talk to Casey Anderson, who keeps a 900-lb. Grizzly as his "pet" and he'll tell you that they are not pets nor can ever be underestimated. You mentioned chimpanzees ripping peoples' faces off. Have you not seen the news where a chimp attacked and KILLED a "keeper" at a sanctuary run by Eugene Givens in Africa? Givens is an educated expert on primates and a naturalist. He employes others there who are even more expert than he is, and they ALL wear sidearms and carry pepper spray when around chimps. One of Givens' co-workers had her thumb nearly bitten off when "interacting" with a previously thought of docile animal.

Brittany B.
Brittany B.3 years ago

cont. Does this incident tell us that chimpanzees will likely rip peoples' faces off? or does it tell us that chimpanzees ON XANAX will likely rip our face off?

Think critically, people!

Oh, and I would also like to take the opportunity to say this; sky diving is an extreme sport/occupation that people CHOOSE to engage in, despite the obvious danger. An average of 60 people a year die from it (I calculated this by looking at yearly deaths for skydiving and calculating the average). The funny thing is, people continue to reproduce all the same variables that were featured in the incidents that cost people their lives and there is no talk of banning sky diving as a sport. Yet, because there are a handful of deaths and serious injuries (which, in the vast majority of cases, were to people who had VOLUNTARILY interacted with the animal, not innocent bystanders) from sometimes extreme situations with exotics, that would probably not ever be reproduced, suddenly there's calling from all sides to ban exotic animal ownership. How does that make logical sense at all.

My advice to people is to sit back and have a long, hard, rational think on this issue, rather than a hair trigger emotional response that is based on nothing more than sympathy for the victims.

Brittany B.
Brittany B.3 years ago

What happened in Zanesville was a horrible tragedy but it was also a freak accident. The animals never 'got out' (I'm not sure why the guy is afraid they'll 'get out again' o_0)...they were let out...by somebody who proceeded to commit suicide. People are pushing anti-exotic legislation by saying that they 'want to prevent another tragedy like this'. How many people do you know who are in this situation; owning 50 exotic animals and seriously considering killing themselves? I mean seriously, people.

Yes, I freely admit that I am being a bit of a smart-ass, but sometimes people need that to see the obvious; that a situation like this is not a prerequisite for any events that do not feature the exact same variables. This cannot tell us what could happen if a 30-some woman owns two tigers because the incident did not feature a 30-some woman who owned two tigers. All this tells us is what could happen if a suicidal person owns an unusually large amount of exotic animals.

While I'm on a roll, I might as well bring up the chimpanzee that mauled the woman and caused her to have to have facial reconstruction surgery, because people are probably going to bring it up in their tirades against exotic animal ownership. A little-known fact that seemed to be only mentioned briefly in a couple news stories immediately after that incident is the fact that the chimpanzee was on Xanax at the time. So, what does this incident tell us? Does this incident tell us that chimpanzees will likely

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

And NO, I do NOT support EITHER PETA nor the banning of any private ownership of exotic animals, but this man clearly should not have had them. Yes, PETA would advocate for no personal "ownership" of pets, but once again, these were NOT pets. They were exotic animals such as lions, tigers, cheetah, and bears, all of which were not meant to be kept in the conditions in which they were subjected, underfed and poorly housed. They were an EXHIBITION for profit only. As for Thompson's gun collecting, while that could have been a factor in his being investigated, it had nothing to do with setting loose these animals and he obviously was not mentally stable to have ONE gun, let alone a collection, nor having animals capable of killing innocent people.............."IF he truly did kill himself"? Aaaah, the grassy knoll conspiracy?

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Tery, I get my information from the article here, and several others in Care.2, as well as reading the newspaper stories as published in their respective locales and are all available if one does a little website surfing. You might try that. Thompson was warned several times for animal neglect, and at the time of this incident, hadn't fed the animals and had stated that he was going to file bankruptcy or just had filed.

He SHOULD have been "harrassed" for having these animals, and not simply because he had them, but because of HOW he had them. Read the article! Read what Mr. Stalf stated. He wasn't the only one who had investigated this property and the situation.

PeTA is not the source of my opinions and I am disgusted by PETA and all they stand for.

Tery G.
Tery G.3 years ago

Diane I don't know where you got your "facts" from but the legal trouble he was in was for improper paperwork filed while acquiring guns ( he was a collector). And he wasn't cited for mistreatment or negligence of his pets, he was constantly being harassed simply for having them. We will never know what actually happened that night that resulted in the unnecessary deaths of endangered animals, too many factions have a vested interest in it not being known. If he truly did kill himself and let the animals loose, it was more a breakdown of our mental health care than anything else. It is below despicable for the PETA types to use this tragedy to further their cause. Do you people understand that PETA's ultimate goal is to outlaw the possession of pets,period? Are you really sure you support that?

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Kalee, do you have ANY reading comprehension skills? I did not say these animals always tried to escape. Your last comment speaks for itself............you, yourself said "I don't know exactly what happened in the Ohio incident,.........you don't need all the "minute, little details". Facts were that this man kept dozens of exotics in deplorable conditions. He was warned many times to improve things and he ignored such warnings. Then after realizing he was broke, had no money to feed his animals, he turned them all loose and committed suicide. They hadn't been fed for days, some even longer. READ the information available! Dozens of articles on the internet about this.

I see you just joined Care.2 today. I won't waste anymore time discussing a situation with someone who lacks the information needed to comment intelligently, nor seems to want to discuss anything logically. I don't have any issue with discussing things with those who simply have a different opinion, but you seem to only want to argue. I won't "feed" such a need.